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Monday, February 11, 2008

Death of Magazines - Broader Deeper Coverage

Rick Nigol posted and reminded me of a post by Donald Clark - Training magaZZZZZZZZZZines. Both are lamenting about the fact that picking up any publication tends to cover roughly the same ground over and over. I have a similar feeling about the limited value of these publications for me and it's something that I mention at most presentations I ever do on eLearning 2.0. In particular, I say that since I've begun to shift my scanning behavior to blogs (scanning is how you stay up-to-speed on a topic) - my rapid fire skimming of blogs via a Skim Dive Skim approach has meant that magazines have mostly become pretty irrelevant to me. I will bring copies of magazines on a plane to flip through, but rarely do I read articles in any great depth. They simply are not worth my Limited Attention.

In other words, my scanning behavior has radically changed because of blogs (see Time Spent on Blogging, Personal Learning Strategies).

I also lump into this most of the activities at conferences (see Better Conferences). In fact, my limited attention has made me into a Session Hopper. It's much like skimming, but at a conference.

But Rick and Donald got me thinking that the reality is that Magazines and Conferences continually must aim at introductory, novice, overview level content. That appeals to the broadest audience. And somehow, ASTD conferences attract 50-75% newbies to ever conference. If you look at it, there is a relationship here:

Introductory / Novice Sources:
  • Conference Sessions
  • Training
  • Wikipedia
  • Magazines
What's common about these is that they are higher level coverage from a more trusted source, but they only go to a certain depth. And, yes, after you've gone through these for a while, they tend to be fairly repetitive.

Expert Sources:
  • Search
  • Blogs
  • Conversations with other experts
These sources tend to offer more depth along more narrow topics. Further, there is a tendency to involve other people in conversations to really explore the topic. The conversations can happen in all kinds of ways both online and offline.

The conference sessions I present on eLearning 2.0 and the articles I write on various topics (e.g., Learning and Networking With A Blog (T+D article)) have to be somewhat of an overview. You cannot assume that people come with a common understanding of a topic. And I would suggest that I normally focus on more advanced topics.

In Disruptive Changes in Learning, I point to how the long tail of learning is addressed through alternative sources...
  • Mainstream media -> YouTube
  • Mainstream press -> Blogs
And this has real impact when you see things like: InfoWorld Folds Print Magazine and you also see things like The Industry Standard coming back, but as an aggregator / prediction market.

It will be interesting to see what begins to happen to mainstream sources that chase large audiences. Can they survive with such broad coverage? Can they also add value for people looking for deeper content? I personally think there's an interesting aggregator role, but they may be made irrelevant by networked aggregation unless they get out in front today.

Certainly, for most experts, my guess is that they've lost much of their value and there are much better scanning sources.

Of course, this also relates to the same issues we face as developers of training. We currently focus on large audiences. We face much the same challenge as publishers and conference organizers. How do you pursue opportunity in the long tail?


Paul said...

This is something I've noticed in part with respect to one of my hobbies, my enthusiasm for automobiles. Being internet-savvy, it's possible to get news about the auto industry multiple times a day, almost in real time. I learn about new developments faster than either print or telvision media could get them to me. In the past I've had subscriptions to auto mags, but any more they really aren't good for much more than in-depth reviews of specific cars by people who get paid to do that. But then, that doesn't require the printing of a magazine anymore. Further, anyone car enthusiast who's looked at the average American car rag these days knows the content is becoming ever thinner with more dressing around the edges to play to (an earlier blog topic by you) short attention spans. The writing style is also decidedly pop-culture focused, and now uses much more slang than perfected prose.

Training mags by contrast I think are, as DC mentioned in his post that I read about magazzzzzzines, very thin and do seem to tackle many similar issues on a regular basis. I subscribe to CLO, as I am looking to gain the insight of leaders as I move to align my career path with that sort of position. There is certainly some good information, however it's still a very thin magazine, maybe surpassing 60 pages, half of them ads for software or services I already use daily.

I think DC is very correct in his assessment of training magazines. I would say however, that they're not even terribly good sources for novices. In my experience many of my colleagues fell into ID/ISD, or other training capacities out of need, not so much by career design. By the time they attend a conference, they already have a good foundation and a few best practices in mind that they can bolster with interactions with other professionals at conferences or the like. I would think certain books on instructional design and training would be better sources. Examples include Kirkpatrick's original work on evaluating training.

I really think many, if not most publications, are going to move away from print of any sort, much the same way Camera manufacturers have recently almost completely dropped film. Why keep the technology save the comparatively tiny group of people that like doing it the old way? The new camera technology is so much more efficient, and moves ever closer to film quality daily, and can evolve by the month with technology.

As for your connection of YouTube to "mainstream media", I would define YT more as "new media" or "user-driven media". The term "mainstream media" in my experience is used to define cable news networks and legacy newspaper publications. I would also modify "mainstream press" to refer to the body of existing publications. Blogs are certainly new and different, but they are not quite accepted as reporting sources in any major respect - yet. That said, I think blogs will evolve into the news reporting medium of the future, and they are already heading that way.

In closing, I think legacy sources of news and information will have to make the switch quickly, and know how to use news forms of technology-based distribution to remain relevant. Other outlets are already providing the information quickly to start with, and even if one outlet can't provide all the information, users can concoct a mixture of blogs, forums, social networks, etc. to gather the story and formulate opinions or an understanding of a topic.

jay said...

Right on target, Tony. I've referred to this as riding the bus (novices learn the framework) or the bike (experienced folks selectively fill in gaps any way they can). It took me way too long to recognize this, which led to frustration at not being able to get novices off the bus. My message is targeted at bike riders; consequently, I have stopped reading the mags and no longer attend ASTD events.

Tony Karrer said...

Paul - I meant to suggest that YouTube and Blogs offer a more diverse, deeper, narrow selection of sources than mainstream media and publications.

Jay - thanks for reminding me of the analogy. I don't think you meant to say that you were trying to "get novices off the bus" ... the bus is maybe fine for a novice. But that covers so little anymore.

And, I get what you are saying about choosing venues based on levels.

What ever happened to our advanced conference? Can that happen?

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder what you expect to get out of a conference. I have never gone to a conference with the expectation of learning anything (although it would be a nice aside) but rather to network, discuss issues, and market (myself, my institution, my discipline, my theories/philosophies).

In terms of magazines, I find the same problem with texts. I have not used a text to teach with in over 10 years as my primary field (international business communication) changes on a daily basis. The time frame it takes to publish anything makes most articles and texts out of date before they even come to market.

However, I do like to search Google scholar for more up to date research and perspectives. I find many conference proceedings (such as ASCILITE) as invaluable to support my own observations.

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - I have similar expectations, but I expect that my networking, discussion of issues and being around others in the field will yield learning. A monthly CTO Forum that I run here in LA provides those things and its a fantastic learning tool. It's 2 hours once a month. A conference that's much longer should be able to offer several opportunities.

But maybe I'm doing it wrong at conferences. I'm open to suggestions on how to get more.

Although it sounds like you don't go with expectations of learning yourself. That's somewhat sad IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that those small forums or conferences are very useful and thought provoking. I also have learned a lot with the online conferences I have participated in (basically because you are given a voice).

I just had two papers accepted at the AERA conference in NYC this year and am dreading it. I know it is important for my carrier, and I was not really expecting to get one paper, much less two accepted (now I have to actually finish writing them!). Last year's experience was horrible when it came to the conference itself, because I felt no sense of connection with such a massive organization.

However, the learning took place when I came home and was able to read through the papers and journals I picked up while there. I also contacted some of the people whose papers I found interesting. Unfortunately, at this point in my career, I must attend these types of conferences. So I will suffer through a trip to NYC (I'm a small town girl) and give me 10 minutes of presentation.